Although they have many environmental benefits, renewable energy resources do have some environmental and cultural impacts. Hawaiian Electric respects cultural concerns and works hard to lessen adverse environmental impacts of its projects.
Every energy project raises environmental and cultural issues that can delay or totally stop the project if they are not dealt with in advance, with openness and respect.
When development of geothermal energy was first proposed on Hawaii Island, some who opposed the project cited cultural concerns stemming from Hawaiian beliefs in Pele, the volcano goddess believed to be responsible for the formation of the Hawaiian Islands.
Other concerns were expressed about the health effects of hydrogen sulfide emissions from geothermal projects and that development and operations, such as well drilling, could be noisy and disruptive.
Some people also expressed concerns about the slight possibility that injection wells might contaminate drinking water sources.
Photo copyright: DOE/NREL and Warren Gretz
Some people are concerned about the large expanses of land needed by big wind farms. For some projects, the land around the wind turbines can be used for general grazing or growing crops. However, the land must remain open space or undeveloped in order to not interfere with the wind farm. Some people also think the wind turbines are an eyesore, noisy, a contributor to erosion, and harmful to birds which are killed flying into the spinning wind turbine blades.
When Hawaiian Electric proposed building a wind farm on the ridge above the Kahe power plant in Leeward Oahu is 2005, nearby residents raised many concerns. These included aesthetics, impact on property values and the chance that wind farm construction might disrupt traditional Hawaiian archeological and burial sites or bring more human traffic to the area. As a result, when it became clear that local opposition would make it impossible to get permits for the wind site, the project had to be abandoned.
Biomass and Biofuel
Agricultural projects to grow biomass and biofuel feed stocks typically require large expanses of land for the fuel source crops, and large amounts of water for irrigation and processing. Burning the biomass fuel source produces air emissions. Pesticides and fertilizers required to grow the fuel source crops may also raise concerns.
Land needed for growing fuel crops may also be earmarked for development by owners and as residential and commercial development spreads, it becomes harder to site and maintain agriculture projects.
An exception is a waste-to-energy plant, like H-POWER on Oahu, which does not require land for crops. Waste-to-energy may actually protect land by reducing the requirement for noxious land fills.
Building hydroelectric facilities can impact aquatic habitats by changing water flow in rivers and streams.